The wheels of LSU’s offense were stuck in the soggy Tiger Stadium turf for the better part of the night.
Brandon Harris dislodged them with big passing plays time and time again as the Tigers pulled away for a 48-20 win against Western Kentucky on a wet Saturday night. The sophomore quarterback continued his week-to-week improvement by throwing for a career-high 286 yards and three touchdowns, which tied his career-best.
“He’s getting more confident, and the coaches are getting more confident in his abilities,” sophomore receiver Malachi Dupre said. “He’s playing great right now. The weather wasn’t what we wanted it to be tonight, but we still made big plays through the air when we had to.”
Harris was not made available to reporters following the game.
On-and-off rain showers pounded Baton Rouge throughout the afternoon and early in the contest, and LSU (7-0) often looked as sloppy as the conditions it played in.
The Tigers started the game on a good note offensively. After four rushes by sophomore running back Leonard Fournette, Harris connected with Dupre on a 55-yard touchdown off play-action.
Then came the struggles.
LSU went three-and-out on two of its next three drives as drops and penalties kept the Tigers in poor down-and-distance situations. Barring a few decent runs from Fournette, the Hilltoppers (6-2) contained LSU’s fourth-ranked rushing offense.
Backed up to their own 4-yard line late in the first half, the Tigers seemed to be in line for more futility. But offensive coordinator Cam Cameron dialed up play-action once again, allowing Harris to hit junior receiver Travin Dural for a 67-yard catch-and-run.
“It really took a weight off our shoulders,” junior center Ethan Pocic said of the big passes.
Dural later drew pass interference in the end zone, setting up sophomore running back Darrel Williams’ 2-yard touchdown plunge. The drive was LSU’s longest of the season, and it started on an explosive play through the air.
Harris opened the second half by hitting Dural for gains of 28 and 12 yards, but the Tigers settled for a 34-yard field goal after the drive stalled.
LSU opted for another field goal after WKU ripped off its second touchdown drive of the game. The offense appeared to be mired in inconsistency yet again, but a big special teams play gave the Tigers the spark they needed.
Sophomore safety Jamal Adams forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, and LSU recovered on the Hilltoppers’ 24-yard line. A holding penalty pushed the Tigers backward before Harris again found Dupre for a 25-yard gain while taking a vicious shot to the head.
“He’s a tough guy,” senior right tackle Vadal Alexander said. “He gets a lot of credit for things like that. We appreciate it.”
LSU let its workhorse do the rest: Fournette extended the lead to 27-13 on a 1-yard score.
Looking for a killing blow late in the third quarter, the Tigers faced a third-and-8 from their own 39. Harris evaded pressure and heaved a deep ball to freshman receiver Tyron Johnson, who made a leaping catch over his defender and ran the rest of the way for his first career touchdown.
“If he goes scrambling, you better cover your guy,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He may be open, and it doesn’t make a difference where in the stadium he is. (Harris) just has a strong arm. He can find an open receiver a long way away.”
Harris delivered the nail in the coffin on the next possession with a 17-yard scoring strike to Dural. Freshman running back Derrius Guice piled it on with a 47-yard scamper late in the game.
The sophomore nearly outgained WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty (325 yards), who entered the contest as the third-leading passer in the country. LSU scored on all six of its second-half drives, and Pocic said Harris was the impetus behind the Tigers’ offensive explosion.
Harris has recently been vocal about wanting to prove his doubters wrong. He has thrown for more than 200 yards and multiple scores in three consecutive games, giving LSU much-needed offensive balance as it heads into a brutal November slate.
“When I came off the field, I said, ‘Brandon, what’s going on,’ ” Dupre said. “He just gave me a little smile.”